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Scientists call for a unified approach to plant and animal breeding

Unifying plant and animal breeding through the use of genomic selection is crucial to ensure global food security.

Cow in grass

In a Perspective article published in Nature Genetics, scientists from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and The Roslin Institute outline the opportunity to use the latest genomic selection technologies to unify breeding methods across several plant and animal species and thus, accelerate increases in agricultural productivity and resilience.

Exploiting the high volume of available genomic data about plant and animal species will help to address questions that are common to both disciplines. This will enable step changes in the rate of genetic gain for crops, livestock and aquaculture, as well as provide a strong platform for new discoveries – such as plants that can grow with less water or lower levels of nutrients – that may be of particular benefit to the developing world.

To achieve this unification of animal and plant breeding, the authors call for a co-ordinated global effort by scientists and research funders to advance scientific skills and develop new partnerships spanning the public and private sectors.

While plant and animal breeding have the same roots and the same goals, they have diverged somewhat over the decades due to biologically induced requirements for different technical approaches. Genomic selection is the technology through which they can again coalesce. This will require new ways of structuring breeding programmes and the research programmes that support them.

Professor John HickeyChair of Animal Breeding at The Roslin Institute

The article was the result of the ‘Implementing Genomic Selection in CGIAR Breeding Programs’ workshop which brought public and private plant and animal breeders together with genomics technology providers. The workshop was funded by the food security research consortium CGIAR and the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Original publication: 

John M Hickey, Tinashe Chiurugwi, Ian Mackay, Wayne Powell & Implementing Genomic Selection in CGIAR Breeding Programs Workshop Participants. Genomic prediction unifies animal and plant breeding programs to form platforms for biological discovery. Nature Genetics, 49, 1297–1303 (2017)

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